Nick Francis, Wednesday 11th September
ANNNND…breathe. The Frankfurt Motor Show press day is done for another year. Put those aching feet into a bowl of hot water, take the phone off the hook.
Now it’s the public’s turn to kick tyres on the sprawl of expensive metal glistening beneath the canopy of spotlights, offering us a chance to take stock of what we learned.
First off: did anyone else notice a distinct lack of the P word?
‘Petrol’. It was as if it had been put on a Jacob Rees-Mogg-style blacklist, to be spoken only in muted whispers in dark corners.
It seemed anyone caught saying the word ‘petrol’ – or for that matter ‘diesel’, ‘horsepower’ and ‘miles per gallon’ – ran the risk of being marched to the exit with their right arm twisted behind their back like one of the delicious Laugenbrezeln so readily available at the food courts.
While it’s been building steadily over the last few years, the Frankfurt show felt like the true birth of the electric era.
You know the fight is on when Volkswagen Group duck through the ropes and start bouncing up and down on the canvas, chin tilted skywards. With the ID.3, Porsche Taycan, ŠKODA CITIGOe iV and Audi AI:TRAIL (how cool does that thing look?), this was VAG snarling to the rest of the industry “come and have a pop if you think you’ve got the chops.” And on its home turf too.
As a global automotive communication company, we welcome VAG’s statement of intent. Let’s face it, where they lead others follow, and for too long the EV market has been marred by ambiguity and lukewarm efforts from manufacturers to show they can make cars which are kind to the polar bear (not including recent gems like the Honda e and Mini Electric).
The tech is there. Silenced are the detractors who whined about lack of range in EVs or sanitised performance. In some cases, the tech is nothing short of mind-blowing. Take Automobili Pininfarina’s Battista, also at Frankfurt. This is the £2 million fully electric hypercar good for a mileage of at least 300 miles while screaming from 0-62mph in under two seconds. Two seconds – about the same time it takes to change the channel on the TV.
The interest is there too. Even a week before Frankfurt kicked off, VW announced they had filled the 30,000-pre-order run for the £34,000 ID.3, at that point a car no one other than VW staff had seen disrobed of its psychedelic tie dye outfit.
Volkswagen wants the ID.3 to do to electric cars what the Beetle and the Golf did for combustion engine cars: dominate global sales. If we were gambling types, we’d bet on it doing so.
The only potential stumbling block is if VW can’t meet demand. Admittedly that’s unlikely, but we know from our work with online car buying data analysts Sophus3, that while there’s been a steady swell in the number of people researching EVs, and even booking test drives, the number of registrations is way down.
So, where’s the disconnect? Interest isn’t being converted into sales, and one reason is the protracted waiting time for delivery.
Some EVs have had a waiting list of a year. We’re not talking about Elon’s Teslas here, these are cars made by global manufacturing behemoths which should be immune to issues of economies of scale.
Would you wait 12 months for, say, the electric Hyundai Kona when the dealership can have you at the wheel of the 1.6 litre petrol version within a few days?
Still, that can’t last, and the ID.3 is sure to give the rest of the industry a kick up the backside.
Now, we’ll ask you to all bow your heads while we observe a moment’s silence for the internal combustion engine. Okay, premature. Thankfully, even though most of Frankfurt’s showstoppers were powered by the National Grid, there was the odd marquee car still running on good ol’ firewater.
No recap of Frankfurt ‘19 would be complete without considering the Land Rover Defender. Glad to have it back? We sure are. The word ‘iconic’ is infuriatingly overused in modern parlance, but there’s no other description in this instance – the Defender is a true British icon, and thus should be cherished.
It seems JLR has succeeded in bringing the Defender into the 21st century, and thanks to huge investment into the engineering, done so without alienating the legions of fans who worried it wouldn’t be as capable off road as the original, which was a mountain goat of a car.
The only whiff of criticism we could detect concerned its size. Yes, the Defender has been in the gym and on a high protein diet, but that’s the way of modern SUVs.
It would not sell if JLR had simply followed the original blueprint and made a compact, drafty, highly-strung farmer’s wagon. Mod cons are simply expected. Just look at the new Suzuki Jimny – a car we never thought we would see with Bluetooth and built-in sat nav.
The influx of high quality EVs on their way to market is a great thing for consumers and should persuade many to at least start thinking about making the switch. But there’s more to it than simply making a good battery powered car.
Until the charging infrastructure and a dealership-level willingness to push the product has been built, petrol-engined cars like the Defender will be the preferred choice for millions.